Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.
With social distancing measures in place and some overall wariness about contact with others, selling a home might seem more daunting than usual. But through the use of virtual tours, online consultations, and 3D floor plans during the coronavirus pandemic, real estate agents can provide clients with more resources and convenience than ever — and sell homes successfully.
“What’s my seller comfortable with?” says Suzanne Damon, a top-selling agent in Manchester, New Hampshire, noting that one told her: “I have to sell because I have to move, but Suzanne, I really don’t want to see you.” Her response? “OK. Let’s talk about how to make this happen for you.”
She had the same flexibility with buyers, asking, “‘How comfortable will you be buying something that you haven’t seen, touched, felt, and smelled?’ Because we buy on our senses.”
If you’re selling a home but worried about how to reduce or eliminate nonessential human contact, or quarantining has made you more cautious, check out these ways to dip your toes into the technology pool. You might feel more comfortable than you thought about how to sell your house virtually without sacrificing the customer service you’d expect and the pricing you want.
1. Find an agent you trust
Communication becomes incredibly vital when meeting face-to-face is difficult or impossible, says Jeremy Kahler, a top-selling agent in Rapid City, South Dakota who has done a “decent amount” of virtual transactions over the years because of nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base. Although military travel stopped during the pandemic, he says in mid-April that he had sold at least three homes virtually, including one for a New York City doctor and his family who had planned to move out West in July.
“They were going to make a trip out here to look at homes, and then all the COVID-19 hit and obviously that was cancelled,” Kahler says. “So then we decided, OK, we’re gonna do it all remotely.”
Homebuyers typically spend 10 weeks searching for a home and preview an average of 12 properties before deciding on their purchase – with nearly 95% starting that legwork online, according to a report from Properties Online, a Santa Rosa, California, company that since 2001 has provided web-based software to help real estate agents market their listings.
The majority found their real estate agent through referrals of friends, neighbors, or relatives (42%), with 12% using the same agent they’d previously used to sell or buy a home and 9% finding an agent through the internet. The top qualities clients wanted? Honesty and integrity (97%), responsiveness (93%), knowledge of the real estate market (92%), and communication skills (86%).
Whether you find an agent through a resource like HomeLight or another means, Kahler advised interviewing them about their previous experience with virtual transactions.
- What virtual tools and programs do they use?
- What’s their marketing plan?
- How will they keep in contact with potential buyers as well as vendors and you?
Also, what’s your timeline and your comfort level? “I think probably the biggest thing is to make sure that there are means to continue to market the home [regardless of the circumstances], and provide a way for buyers to have a good view of the property, the layout, and to be able to make a decision,” Kahler says.
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2. List your home remotely
Using a video conferencing platform such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, or Google Hangouts, agents can conduct virtual consultations where sellers walk them through their properties so they can get a sense of the layout. You might have to take your own photos or video, which the agent can have edited, or leave the home for a real estate photographer (wearing gloves and masks) to do the job.
“The seller has all the lights on and everything ready for photos,” Kahler says, adding that the photographer touches as little as possible.
“It’s basically getting in the front door, and then they go through, shoot the house, leave, and we’re ready to go.”
Cheesette Cowan, a top-selling Tampa, Florida, real estate agent who specializes in relocations and investment properties, says meeting with clients virtually for listing appointments has allowed her to free up more time.
“I’ve had listing appointments with people on their iPhone FaceTiming. And I’m like, ‘Why wasn’t I doing this before?’” she says, noting that before the coronavirus pandemic, she would have driven 45 minutes to view a property in person. Now she’s looked through a seller’s livestream or photos, researched online to set a price, and sent listing papers to the seller electronically.
“A lot can be done virtually. … In the last month, I have taken six listings and probably four contracts, and I don’t think I’ve left my house to do any of it,” Cowan says. “One of the things that I’m going to implement in my business is the virtual listing process.”
3. View it as if buyers were there
Declutter your home on your own or consult with a professional stager to make it look its best. Trisha Roe of Designing Impressions, a licensed professional stager for 16 years in Sturgis, South Dakota, who works with Kahler, has done virtual consultations either from the driveway of a client’s home via a tablet or from her house.
She asks the homeowner to walk her through the property and provides advice on rearranging the furniture and clearing out clutter without having to enter the home.
Kahler says he records a detailed video tour for buyers where he points out the home’s features and any flaws. “I am very, very cautious on pointing out any little flaws that I see … because on video, obviously, you don’t get as much of the fine detail of a home.”
- Kleard, which offers self-guided “open houses.”
- Immoviewer and FloorPlanOnline, which provide virtual showings and 3D 360-degree video tours.
- BombBomb, which has video check-ins.
Tom Hall, a top-selling agent in Oklahoma City, has used Facebook Watch Parties instead of traditional open houses. The feature allows several different users to share a live video through all their profiles and with their friends and followers where Hall spotlights a home and answers live questions.
Damon says her office’s website allows for interested buyers to click on a calendar for a virtual tour alongside an agent. “We’ll sit down and go slide by slide and consult with you,” she says. “If that’s a good fit, let’s take it to the next step. Eventually, they’re going to have to get in that house.”
4. Get your home inspected — with modifications
Before closing, you’ll still need to enable a home inspector to view the property inside and out (a common contract contingency) or provide a home warranty to cover any structural damage or breakdowns in appliances, such as the furnace or refrigerator. But agents say that a homeowner doesn’t have to be present for such inspections; agents can open the property and remain outside while the inspector works.
“I think the important thing is just ask, ‘What is your protocol?’ and if they don’t have a protocol in place, that you give them yours,” Damon says.
The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) recommends that inspectors and homeowners reschedule inspections if anyone feels sick or exhibits any symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
ASHI has other advisories for inspectors, such as bringing their own antibacterial soap, towel, hand sanitizer, and shoe covers to wear before entering a home and wiping down bathroom and kitchen fixtures and toilet handles with a sanitizing wipe after inspecting these areas.
Instead of meeting with clients in person, inspectors can send in their reports and photographs, then discuss the report with the client by phone or a virtual meeting.
5. Assess home value
As for appraisals, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has permitted alternative appraisals through May 17, 2020, as a result of the coronavirus. These alternative appraisals use exterior inspections, drive-bys, a homeowner’s video walk-through, or a home inspector’s report to assess condition and value.
You can gauge your home’s worth before such an appraisal using online tools such as HomeLight’s Home Value Estimator, powered by multiple sources and current market trends, as well as your agent’s Comparative Market Analysis (CMA).
6. Vet buyers and offers
The NAR says that both listing and buyer’s agents may ask if a buyer is pre-qualified to purchase and limit showings to qualified buyers, as long as they ask all buyers for a pre-qualification letter to avoid a potential Fair Housing violation. (Admittedly, some buyers may have trouble obtaining such a letter at the moment because of the volume of refinancing applications and operational issues that lenders are facing.)
Agents told HomeLight that they’re also asking buyers to view any photos, floorplans, and other materials first so that they can arrange a visit for those who are serious. Evaluate any offers with help from your agent via online conferencing, as well as tools like HomeLight’s net proceeds calculator.
7. Close online
Depending on where you live, you may be able to close online using electronic signatures and notary services. As of April 28, 2020, all but 10 states had permanent laws allowing for Remote Online Notarizations (RON) or emergency authorization to perform RONs or remote ink-signed notarization because of the coronavirus. (Because this is an evolving situation and states’ distancing orders vary, check the National Notary Association’s map for updates here.)
You also can work out an in-person but spacious arrangement for signing closing paperwork, such as sitting at opposite ends of a conference table, in separate rooms, or in different cars in a lawyer’s parking lot, as Damon witnessed.
If a buyer purchases a property “sight unseen” for whatever reason, the NAR advises adding some protective language to the purchase agreement “where the buyer acknowledges that the buyer – not the listing broker, agent or seller – is responsible for personal verification, walk-throughs and professional inspections to confirm condition and that the property is satisfactory.”
Selling a house virtually is a new experience for many, but it doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, the added technology and discussion with agents provides for a more detailed experience and more understanding, Damon says. “It allows more time for relationship-building in the process.”
Header Image Source: (Polina Zimmerman / Pexels)